One of Iowa’s strengths has always been its offensive line.
But two major holes opened up on that line this offseason, when Brandon Scherff (first round) and Andrew Donnal (fourth round) were both selected in the NFL Draft.
Like any other position on this or any other team, it’s obviously “next man up,” even if replacing guys like Scherff — who won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman — and Donnal is a much tougher job.
Having to block for a new starting quarterback and a new starting running back a year after not doing the greatest job in that department (and that’s with a pair of NFL Draft picks on that line), how will the new-look offensive line fare?
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Thankfully for the Hawkeyes, there’s some consistency in a pair of returning guys who have played a good deal of football at Iowa in center Austin Blythe and right guard Jordan Walsh. Blythe was a member of the All-Big Ten Second Team a season ago, his second straight year starting all 13 games after starting nine as a redshirt freshman in 2012. That’s 35 total starts in three seasons, for those counting at home. Walsh, a Glenbard West product, has started 24 games in three seasons, including 10 last season.
But there’s been a lot of jockeying along that line leading up to this season. Blythe has played both center and guard during his time at Iowa and seems to be at center for his senior season. That opens up that left guard spot to go along with the two tackle spots vacated by Scherff and Donnal.
Youth could dominate those three open spots, as a trio of sophomores were listed at No. 1 spots on the team’s postseason depth chart in January. That doesn’t mean those are the three guys that’ll get the jobs — or even the positions they’ll be competing for.
“We'll end up getting the guys where we want them,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said earlier this month’s during the team’s media day, “we've just got to figure out who the best five are to start with and then we'll work it from there.”
Those sophomores include Sean Welsh, who started nine of the team’s 13 games as a redshirt freshman last season. Boone Myers and Ike Boettger are also in the mix and saw limited action as redshirt freshmen in 2014. There are plenty of other guys, too, who could prove factors as camp marches on.
“It's great to have Sean Welsh back on the football team. He had a great summer, and he's a guy that's played for us and played well, maybe not with the consistency you hope for, but that's what experience is all about, and he's off to a good start,” Ferentz said. “I think we have the makings right there. It's just a matter of a race against the clock between now and that first game week. That will continue for a while. We've got to be ready for some ups and downs, just like anytime you break in new players at new positions.”
In traditional Iowa fashion, many of these guys are big. The smallest O-lineman on the team checks in at 275 pounds. Six of them — Myers, Boettger, Dalton Ferguson, Mitch Keppy, Keegan Render and Ross Reynolds — hit the triple-century mark on the scale, and several others are pretty darn close. At the very least, that gives Hawkeyes running backs some size to run behind.
But skill is what Ferentz & Co. are looking for. Replacing Scherff and Donnal will be no easy feat, if it can even be accomplished.